Sunday, November 13, 2011


I expect to be posting a lot less for a while.  Various personal and professional responsibilities will likely consume much of the time I would have used for posting.  I hope to post about those professional issues soon, but until then, thanks for reading these past months.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Teacher Pay

Teacher pay is much discussed these days.  The conversation centers either on the merits of merit pay or the level of pay.  Last week the American Enterprise Institute released a report weighing in on the issue, and argued that public school teachers are not underpaid.  (Full text here.)

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan responded, saying the study was insulting to teachers.

I was struck by a couple of things.

First, the AEI claims are based on the comparison of teacher salaries with non-teachers who scored similarly on various tests to measure skill/knowledge/competency/whatever (GRE, and the like).

Average teacher scores on those tests aren't all that great.  And it turns out that teachers make more than their test score neighbors.  I'm more interested in a connection between teacher test scores and the achievement gap.   In all the furor about teachers and achievement gap (in the school board campaign), I noticed a somewhat overlooked detail in one of the reports that the 'get rid of bad teachers' camp relies on.  Teachers with higher skills (math, verbal and content area) do better in closing the achievement gap. I saw it expressed even stronger than in this document, but I can't find the original source.

So, we could pre-test teachers for skill level.  We do so now, it's just that the tests aren't that rigorous.  Maybe, just maybe, higher pay would allow us to demand that teachers be "smarter."

Second, what if we use a different aspect of market analysis?  What if we asked about the marginal value of education?  If we start with the data that show a bachelors degree is worth over a million dollars in extra lifetime earnings (over a high school graduate) and start calculating the marginal contribution that each year (and each teacher) makes to that, then we'd see that teachers are radically undervalued.  When I was teaching full-time at university, I had about 100 students a year, and each of them took about 3% of their coursework from me.  So, my class was 'worth' $30,000 of their extra future lifetime.  Give me credit for only 1/30th of that, so $1000, and my marginal contribution to those students' future wealth was $100,000 (each year).  For the record, I was getting paid much less than that.

The numbers would be different for earlier grades, but the idea is the same.

My point isn't that teachers are underpaid--I don't know that they are.  My point is that you can do fascinating things with numbers, if you try.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

It's (semi-)official!

There are relatively few votes left to count and Scott Heinze continues to lead by about 850 votes.  It is effectively over--Scott Heinze is Tacoma School Board Director-Elect.

Congratulations, Scott!  Excellent campaign!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

First Results Are In!

Scott Heinze has an almost 900 vote lead for Director #3!  There are plenty of votes still to be counted, but unless there's some reason that the remaining votes are not distributed about the same as the ones already in, 900 is a lot to make up.

Great Campaign, Scott!

Veterans Day

We are required to have a Veterans Day assembly every year.  Very often, it's a difficult day.  I find it distressing to try to get 8th graders to give right honor and respect to the complicated idea of what veterans do and have done for our country....About as distressing as trying to figure how I can extend appropriate honor and respect to that complicated idea.

And this in a school where about half our students have a military connection.  You can throw a pretty heavy stone from our building and hit Fort Lewis property.  Many mornings soldiers will be doing physical training activities on our field and track.

Well, this year we had the privilege of having Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry, Medal of Honor winner, speak.   I don't know the precise criteria for winning the Medal of Honor, but as I told my class afterward, it has something to do with taking great risk to yourself in order to save your comrades.  More often, of course, the award is granted posthumously.

We had an inside track--his daughter attends our school, but seeing his humble demeanor and servant heart, I suspect he would call it a privilege to speak at a middle school anywhere.  

I count it an honor and privilege to have heard Sergeant Petry, who signed off his talk with the Ranger motto, "Rangers lead the way." 

Sgt. Petry, men of character lead the way.  Thank you.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

What did I learn?

Some people have asked me what I think about the process of running for office.  All I ever come up with is, it was interesting.  I should probably say, "It was unbelievable."  That could go either way...good or bad.  And parts of it were unbelievable.

I had a hard time believing that the union lied to me...well, not directly to me.  Rather, they lied about me when they told a News Tribune reporter (who then relayed it to me) that they had called me to participate in the endorsement interview process when they had not.

Now I appreciate that preparation--it wasn't so unbelievable when they lied to a colleague (in a similar pattern--about contacting him) regarding district business.

I have also had a hard time believing that the union endorsed Dexter Gordon when he stands for so many things that they oppose.  Aligned with Stand for Children and Vibrant Schools Tacoma, Gordon supports "getting rid of bad teachers"--words he spoke at the News Tribune endorsement interview--by way of administrative fiat determined by test score-based teacher evaluations.

I'm generally skeptical of such arguments, but my skepticism of the union is compounded by the fact that  they endorsed a candidate who has these views.

I also have a hard time believing the News Tribune.  I found some of the things they did and said to be rather strange.

An explanation by way of a recent e-mail exchange with one of the editors.

From me to the editor:

Back in June, when we had the endorsement interview at the paper, I was brand new to the whole business of electoral politics.  So when we sat down for the interview I didn't really know what to think or expect.  While I enjoyed myself in the conversation, a couple things struck me as odd.

Scott Heinze was not present.  While at the time I was 'glad' for the extra exposure that he didn't get, it seemed odd that one of the candidates didn't get to participate.  (I understand that Scott had a previous and unbreakable commitment.)  I guess I wondered why we hadn't all tried to find a mutually agreeable date, since the endorsement choices were going to made at later date anyway.

I found it equally odd that a friend of Dexter Gordon's got to sit in on the interview.  [You two editors] greeted him warmly, and I chose not to make an issue of it, wondering if doing so might seem petty....Again, I was a neophyte in all this, and only discovered that our TNT interview was unusual when other groups specifically said that the only the candidates could be present in those activities.

Well, all that to say, have you given any thought to having another interview with Dexter and Scott--to start on an even playing field for the new election round?

The editor responded thusly:

I appreciate your interest in our pages and especially appreciate the fact that you ran for school board.

Candidates often perceive our endorsement interviews as being more important than they actually are. I learned a very long time ago not to judge a candidate on the basis of how well he or she comes across in a single meeting. Some of the most impressive-seeming people I’ve met in interviews have turned out to be frauds or incompetents on closer inspection.

We don’t endorse people on the basis of a dazzling show. We have conversations with people we respect in the community, we read our own news coverage, the candidates’ literature, and other sources of information.

In this case, we wound up with a very favorable impression of you, Scott Heinze and Dexter Gordon. We felt comfortable that any one of you would make a fine member of the school board. Six members of our editorial board all had their reasons for recommending Gordon (I don’t remember any dissent about it). I personally was influenced by watching his public advocacy - over a period of years - for more successful ways of educating disadvantaged students.

It was very unfortunate that Heinze couldn’t be there. Schedules conflict, and sometimes it’s all but impossible to get everyone in the room at the same time. But in this case especially, the meeting was not a dominant factor in our decision.

I have tried to believe this, but I have not been able to...not in its entirety, anyway.  Dexter Gordon is flashy.  Everyone agrees, he's a stirring speaker.  Many add that they never quite know what he's saying.  That's flash...and Dexter has it.

I do believe that the meeting was not the dominant factor in the editors' decision--they'd made up their minds already.  You know, after Dexter's years of advocacy.  At the interview, he explained that advocacy in this way.  "When I came to Tacoma nine years ago, I met with the leaders of the communities of color, and agreed with them that if they would fast-track me to leadership, I would speak their needs in the community."

Some might call it advocacy.  Others might call it ambition.  Just as some might call me skeptical while others might call it sour grapes.  The latter might be more substantiated for you by my disappointment that the News Tribune never did post my Letter to the Editor (after two attempts on my part).

So, sour grapes it may be...but it is what I learned.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New model for school?

I wonder what all the Ed. Reformers will say about Shanghai's success.  I hear that our governor (not an Ed. Reformer) is proposing to close some of the budget gap by cutting 5 school days.  I'm sure that if we just find the right curriculum and do enough things on the top of Bloom's Taxonomy and align our EALRs appropriately and  do 'what works' and emphasize Marzano's 9 high-yield strategies and all that, then we'll be able to close the gap between our now 175 6-hour days and Shanghai's 12-hour days.

If we have to cut school days, let's at least do something sensible.  Close every third Wednesday--don't lengthen the weekend and make the first day back all that much less productive.  That's about 12 days, so add a week --or 4 days on the end and 3 on the beginning?--so that we cut a little bit into that summer drop-off problem.

Try to find some way to make something good out of this bad situation.